Skip to content Skip to navigation

Doctoral Program Overview

Stanford's Ph.D. program is among the world's best. Our graduate students receive their training in a lively community of philosophers engaged in a wide range of philosophical projects. Our Ph.D. program trains students in traditional core areas of philosophy and provides them with opportunities to explore many subfields such as the philosophy of literature, nineteenth-century German philosophy, and medieval philosophy.

Among other areas, we are exceptionally strong in Kant studies, the philosophy of action, ancient philosophy, logic, and the philosophy of science. We attract some of the best students from around the world and we turn them into accomplished philosophers ready to compete for the best jobs in a very tight job market.

How to Apply

Stanford University

Being a part of Stanford University means that students have access to one of the premier education institutions in the world. Stanford is replete with top departments in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. In addition, our professional schools, such as the Stanford Law School, are among the best. The range of research in a variety of areas, many of which touch on or relate to philosophical issues, is simply astounding. Students have the freedom to take courses across the university. Graduate students also regularly earn joint degrees with other programs.

Program Characteristics

Our program is well known for its small size, streamlined teaching requirements, and low average time to degree.

The program regulations are designed to efficiently provide students with a broad base in their first two years. In the third year students transition to working on their dissertations. During the summer prior to the third year, students are required to attend a dissertation development seminar. This seminar introduces students to what is involved in writing a dissertation. During the third year the course load drops to just under one course per quarter.

The rest of the time is spent working closely with a faculty member, or a couple of faculty members, on the student's area of research interest. The goal of the third year is that this process of intensive research and one-on-one interaction will generate a topic and proposal for the dissertation. During the fourth and fifth year the student is not required to take any courses and he or she focusses exclusively on research and writing on the dissertation.

Interdisciplinary Study

The department supports interdisciplinary study. Courses in Stanford's other departments and programs may be counted towards the degree, and course requirements in Philosophy are designed to allow students considerable freedom in taking such courses. Dissertation committees may include members from other departments. Where special needs arise, the department is committed to making it possible for students to obtain a philosophical education and to meet their interdisciplinary goals. Students are advised to consult their advisers and the department's student services office for assistance.

Requirements, including Teaching Requirements

The most up to date requirements are listed in exploredegrees.  check pHD REQUIREMENTS

The University's basic requirements for the Ph.D. degree including residence, dissertation, and examination are discussed in the "Graduate Degrees" section of this bulletin. The requirements detailed here are department requirements. These requirements are meant to balance structure and flexibility in allowing students, in consultation with their advisers, to take a path through the program that gives them a rigorous and broad philosophical education, with room to focus on areas of particular interest, and with an eye to completing the degree with an excellent dissertation and a solid preparation for a career in academic philosophy.

Courses used to satisfy any course requirement in Philosophy must be passed with a letter grade of 'B-' or better (no satisfactory/no credit), except in the case of a course/seminar used to satisfy the third-year course/seminar requirement and taken for only 2 units. Such a reduced-unit third-year course/seminar must be taken credit/no credit.

At the end of each year, the department reviews the progress of each student to determine whether the student is making satisfactory progress, and on that basis to make decisions about probationary status and termination from the program where appropriate.

Any student in one of the Ph.D. programs may apply for the M.A. when all University and department requirements have been met.

Proficiency Requirements

  1. First-year Ph.D. Proseminar: a one quarter, topically focused seminar offered in Autumn Quarter, and required of all first-year students.

  2. Distribution requirements during the first six quarters. Intended to ensure a broad and substantial exposure to major areas of philosophy while allowing for considerable freedom to explore. (seelists of courses which fulfill PhD area requirements for14-1515-1616-1717-18

    1. six courses distributed across three areas as follows :
      1. two courses in value theory including ethics, aesthetics, political philosophy, social philosophy, philosophy of law. At least one of the courses satisfying this distribution requirement must be in ethics or political philosophy.
      2. Two courses in language, mind, and action. One course satisfying this requirement must be drawn from the language related courses, and one from mind and action related courses.
      3. two courses in metaphysics and epistemology (including metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science). At least one of the courses satisfying this requirement must be drawn from either metaphysics or epistemology.
      4. Instructors indicate which courses may satisfy particular requirements. If a course potentially satisfies more than one requirement the student may use it for only one of those area requirements; no units may be double-counted. Students must develop broad competencies in all these areas. Those without strong backgrounds in these areas would normally satisfy these distribution requirements by taking more basic courses rather than highly specialized and focused courses. Students should consult with their adviser in making these course decisions, and be prepared to explain these decisions when reviewed for candidacy; see requirement 6 below.
    2. Logic requirement: PHIL 150 Mathematical Logic or equivalent.
    3. History/logic requirement. One approved course each in ancient and modern philosophy, plus either another approved history of philosophy course or PHIL 151 Metalogic.
    4. Students should normally take at least 64 graduate level units at Stanford during their first six quarters (in many cases students would take more units than that) and of those total units, at least 49 units of course work are to be in the Philosophy department. These courses must be numbered above 110, but not including Teaching Methods (PHIL 239 Teaching Methods in Philosophy) or affiliated courses. Units of Individual Directed Reading are normally not to be counted toward this 49-unit requirement unless there is special permission from the student's adviser and the Director of Graduate Studies.

  3. Writing Requirement

    A qualifying paper of professional quality and approximately 8000 words. Students must complete a version of the paper, which is itself likely to be a revision of a paper written during the first year of course work, by the beginning of their fourth quarter. The paper is read by a committee of two faculty who make suggestions for additional revision. The final version must be submitted by the first day of the sixth quarter, normally Spring Quarter of the second year.
  4. Teaching Assistancy

    A minimum of five quarters of teaching assistancy are required for the Ph.D. Normally one of these quarters is as a teaching assistant for the Philosophy Department's Writing in the Major course,PHIL 80 Mind, Matter, and Meaning. It is expected that students not teach in their first year and that they teach no more than two quarters in their second year. Students are required to take PHIL 239Teaching Methods in Philosophy during Spring Quarter of their first year and during Autumn Quarter of their second year. Teaching is an important part of students’ preparation to be professional philosophers.
  5. Review at the End of the Second Year for Advancement to Candidacy

    By the fourth week of the sixth quarter students must submit a one-page explanation of their first- and second-year course plan and their writing requirement paper. The faculty's review of each student includes a review of the student's record, an assessment of the qualifying paper, and an assessment of the student's preparation for work in her/his intended area of specialization, as well as recommendations of additional preparation, if necessary.
  6. Candidacy

    To continue in the Ph.D. program, each student must apply for candidacy during the sixth academic quarter, normally the Spring Quarter of the student's second year. Students may be approved for or denied candidacy by the end of that quarter by the department.  In some cases, where there are only one or two outstanding deficiencies, the department may defer the candidacy decision and require the student to re-apply for candidacy in a subsequent quarter.  In such cases, definite conditions for the candidacy re-application will be specified, and the student must work with his/her adviser and the DGS to meet those conditions in a timely fashion.  A failure to maintain timely progress in satisfying the specified conditions will constitute grounds for a denial of advancement to candidacy.
  7. Dissertation Development Seminar in the summer after the second year. This is the point at which students are expected to transition from spending much of their time on coursework to focusing on their thesis project. By the end of the summer, students are expected to have a plan for moving forward with the project in the third year; they should have formed advising relationships with faculty and should have made headway towards identifying a specific topic.
  8. Upon completion of the summer dissertation development seminar, students will sign up for independent study credit , PHIL 240 Individual Work for Graduate Students, with their respective advisers each quarter. A plan at the beginning, and a report at the end of each quarter will be signed by both student and adviser and submitted to the Graduate Administrator for inclusion in the student's file. This will be the process every quarter up until the completion of the departmental oral.
  9. In autumn and winter quarters of the third year, students will register in and satisfactorily completePHIL 301 Dissertation Development Proseminar. Students meet to present their work in progress and discuss their thesis project. Participation in these seminars is required.
  10. During the third and fourth years in the program, a student should complete at least three graduate-level courses/seminars, at least two of them in philosophy (a course outside philosophy can be approved by the adviser), and at least two of them in the third year. Each can be taken credit/no-credit, and can be taken for reduced (2) units (in which case it must be taken credit/no-credit); others must be passed with a B- or better. Courses required for candidacy are not counted toward satisfaction of this requirement. This light load of courses allows students to deepen their philosophical training while keeping time free for thesis research.
  11. Dissertation Work and Defense

    The third and following years are devoted to dissertation work. The few requirements in this segment of the program are milestones to encourage students and advisers to ensure that the project is on track.
    1. Dissertation Proposal—By Spring Quarter of the third year, students should have selected a dissertation topic and committee. A proposal sketching the topic, status, and plan for the thesis project, as well as an annotated bibliography or literature review indicating familiarity with the relevant literature, must be received by the committee one week before the meeting on graduate student progress late in Spring Quarter. The dissertation proposal and the reading committee's report on it will constitute a substantial portion of the third year review.
    2. Departmental Oral—During Autumn Quarter of the fourth year, students take an oral examination based on at least 30 pages of written work, in addition to the proposal. The aim of the exam is to help the student arrive at an acceptable plan for the dissertation and to make sure that student, thesis topic, and advisors make a reasonable fit. It is an important chance for the student to clarify their goals and intentions with the entire committee present.
    3. Fourth-Year Colloquium—No later than Spring Quarter of the fourth year, students present a research paper in a 60-minute seminar open to the entire department. This paper should be on an aspect of the student's dissertation research. This is an opportunity for the student to make their work known to the wider department, and to explain their ideas to a general philosophical audience.
    4. University Oral Exam—Ph.D. students must submit a completed draft of the dissertation to the reading committee at least one month before the student expects to defend the thesis in the University oral exam. If the student is given consent to go forward, the University oral can take place approximately two weeks later. A portion of the exam consists of a student presentation based on the dissertation and is open to the public. A closed question period follows. If the draft is ready by Autumn Quarter of the fourth year, the student may request that the University oral count as the department oral.

Ph.D. Minor in Philosophy

  1. One elective seminar in the history of science.
  2. One elective seminar (in addition to the course satisfying requirement 2) in philosophy of science.

To obtain a Ph.D. minor in Philosophy, students must follow these procedures:

  1. Consult with the Director of Graduate Study to establish eligibility, and select a suitable adviser.
  2. Give to the graduate administrator a signed copy of the program of study (designed with the adviser) which offers:
    1. 30 units of courses in the Department of Philosophy with a letter grade of 'B-' or better in each course. No more than 3 units of directed reading may be counted in the 30-unit requirement.
    2. At least one course or seminar numbered over 99 to be taken in each of these six areas:
      1. Logic
      2. Philosophy of science
      3. Ethics, value theory, and moral and political philosophy
      4. Metaphysics and epistemology
      5. Language, mind and action
      6. History of philosophy
    3. Two additional courses numbered over 199 to be taken in one of those (b) six areas.
  3. A faculty member from the Department of Philosophy (usually the student's adviser) serves on the student's doctoral oral examination committee and may request that up to one third of this examination be devoted to the minor subject.
  4. Paperwork for the minor must be submitted to the department office before beginning the program.

Financial Support

We provide 5 years of financial support. We also try to provide support for our sixth year students and beyond though we cannot guarantee such support. In addition to covering tuition, providing a stipend, and covering health insurance, we provide additional funds for books, computer equipment, and conference travel expenses. Some of the financial support is provided through requiring you to teach; however, our teaching requirement is quite low and we believe that this is a significant advantage of our program.